Rising sea levels are set to change Devon coast forever

A new map shows how key landmarks on the Devon coast face being swamped by tidal surges due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. Scientists say the rate of rise is increasing, with levels forecast to be around 35cm higher by 2050 and 1m by the end of the century.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

An interactive online map produced by Climate Central shows the land at risk from storm surges without sea defences. In south Devon, the modelling for a 1m rise shows parts of Paignton seafront under water, along with land alongside the River Exe Estuary including most of the sand bar at Dawlish Warren. In North Devon, the waters would cover low-lying land on the estuaries of the Taw and Torridge rivers, including parts of Braunton Burrows and Westward Ho! Beach.

Sea levels have risen by around 16.5cm (6.5ins) since 1900, but the Met Office says the rate of rise is increasing and now stands at between 3mm and 5.2mm a year – more than double the rate in the early part of last century. This is exposing more parts of the coast to powerful storm surges and winds, damaging the environment and homes.

Scientists say average global temperatures are rising due to the effect of man-made greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels. That is causing the water in the seas to expand and polar ice to melt, increasing the volume of the seas. The temperature rise is said to be contributing to more extreme weather, with heavier rain and fiercer storms, causing an increased risk of river flooding and land being inundated.

In March 2018, low-lying land on the seafront at Paignton was flooded by a storm surge and the main A379 was partly washed away at Slapton in the South Hams. In 2014, there was a major breach of the railway line at Dawlish in 2014 when part of the Victorian sea wall was washed away.

Map showing the effect of a 1m rise in the sea level in North Devon (Image: Climate Central)

Around 500,000 homes around the UK will be at risk from flooding, scientists say. An estimate of nearly 200,000 homes and businesses at risk of abandonment around the coast has been made by researchers at the Tyndall Centre, in the University of East Anglia, in data published in June.

The government is funding a series of schemes across Devon as part of a new £5.2billion six-year programme of investment in flood and coastal defences announced in July to protect the most at-risk properties, doubling the amount spent in the previous six years.

Map showing the effect of a 1m rise in the sea level at Paignton (Image: Climate Central)

Plans are being prepared for a new 1m high flood wall to run the length of the seafront at Paignton. Without the scheme, more than 350 homes would be at risk from flooding, with sea water forecast to sweep in through the town centre and across the railway line as far as Hyde Road.

At Exmouth, a £12m scheme has improved defences on the Exe estuary and seafront against tidal flooding, to protect more than 1,400 homes and 400 businesses. In Exeter, a £32m scheme to improve defences alongside the Exe protects more than 3,000 homes and businesses.

In East Devon, a £15m scheme is being carried out to restore the flood plain of the River Otter, allowing reclaimed land to be flooded rather than try to hold back rising sea levels.

Map showing the effect of a 1m rise in the sea level at Dawlish Warren (Image: Climate Central)

The government has set out a strategy to reach Net Zero by 2050 – the point when the output of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming like carbon dioxide is reduced and equals the measures to take them out of the atmosphere.

Low-lying areas of the Devon coast are particularly at risk from tidal flooding, and an increase in storms from climate change could also speed up erosion. Changing weather patterns are seeing more rainfall, which increases the flood risk from rivers.

This summer the UK has recorded its highest ever temperature after the Met Office issued a red warning for heat and thermometers topped 40C in Lincolnshire.

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